Sony Hack Reminds Us that the Gender Pay Gap Still Lingers — Even at the Top

BY CHRISTIAN KOHLSAAT – The latest Sony hack revealed far more than how its employees feel about Adam Sandler.[1]  It reminded us that women still hold fewer high level positions than men, and, when they do, they are often paid less than their male counterparts in similar positions.  There are currently seventeen of six thousand Sony employees that make over $1 million or more per year.[2]  Sixteen of them are men, and Amy Pascal, who has been featured prominently in headlines about the hack, was the only woman in the group.[3]  While Pascal and her male counterpart earn the same salary, there is a nearly $1 million pay gap between the co-presidents of Columbia Pictures, with Michael De Luca out-earning Hanna Minghella despite holding identical positions.[4]  Sony employees were not the only ones whose salaries were disclosed.  The hack also revealed how much Sony was paying the actors in their movies.[5]  Charlize Theron, Amy Adams, and Jennifer Lawrence were paid less than their male counterparts for their work in recent movies.  As a result of the hack, Charlize Theron discovered that her co-star, Chris Hemsworth, was earning $10 million more than her for their movie “The Huntsman,” and she insisted that her pay be raised to match Hemsworth’s.[6]  The hack also revealed that Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence received only 7 percent of back-end profits for “American Hustle,” while Christian Bale and the other male lead actors of the film received 9 percent.[7]

Outside of Hollywood, women in corporate positions and high paying, high skill jobs are still affected according to the United States Department of Labor.[8]  In fact, among 50 Washington trade lobby groups, women who held top positions in 8 groups earned around $600,000 less than males holding the same position.[9]  In the context of large law firms, there is an $88,000 difference in the median salaries of male and female partners, with females earning $537,000 and males $625,000.[10]  Additionally, according to a Bloomberg review of census data from 2010, out of 285 major corporations, there was only one in which women’s median pay was higher than that of men.[11]

Unfortunately, the gender pay gap has not decreased much over the last decade.[12] What is being done to bridge the gap?  The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 allowed women to sue more easily for discriminatory wage practices, and in 2014, President Obama signed an executive order requiring federal contractors to publish wage data by sex and race. [13]  In addition, the Paycheck Fairness Act has been proposed to close loopholes left by the Equal Pay Act, but it has yet to make it through the Senate.[14]  None of these measures is the cure, but they are at the very least a good start.

[1] Mike Reyes, Sony’s Hacked Emails Are A Nightmare Scenario for Adam Sandler, Cinemablend (Dec. 2014) http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Sony-Hacked-Emails-Nightmare-Scenario-Adam-Sandler-68501.html.

[2] Kevin Roose, Hacked Documents Reveal A Hollywood Studio’s Stunning Gender and Race Gap, Fusion, http://fusion.net/story/30789/hacked-documents-reveal-a-hollywood-studios-stunning-gender-and-race-gap/ (last visited Jan. 18, 2015).

[3] Id.

[4] Bryce Covert, Charlize Theron Negotiates $10M Raise After Sony Hack Reveals Male Costar Was to Be Paid Millions More, ThinkProgress (Jan. 12, 2015, 9:13AM), http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2015/01/12/3610424/charlize-theron-pay-gap/.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Pamela Coukos, Myth Busting the Pay Gap, United States Department of Labor (June 7, 2012) http://social.dol.gov/blog/myth-busting-the-pay-gap/.

[9] Danielle Ivory, Washington Female CEO’s Earn Less Than Male Lobby Peers, Bloomberg (May 16, 2013, 12:01 AM), http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-05-16/washington-women-ceos-earn-600-000-less-than-male-lobby-peers.html.

[10] Debra Cassens Weiss, Women Lawyers at the Top Earn Significantly Less than Men, ABA Journal (Nov. 29, 2007, 12:34 PM), http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/women_lawyers_at_the_top_earn_significantly_less_than_men/.

[11] Pamela Coukos, Myth Busting the Pay Gap, United States Department of Labor (June 7, 2012).

[12] Catherine Hill, The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap, AAUW, http://www.aauw.org/research/the-simple-truth-about-the-gender-pay-gap/ (last visited Jan. 18, 2015).

[13] Lisa De Bode, Obama Signs Executive Order on Equal Pay for Women, Aljazeera America (April 7, 2014), http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/4/7/president-obama-equalpaygapgenderinequalityexecutiveorder.html.

[14] Laura Bassett, Paycheck Fairness Act Blocked Again by Senate GOP, Huffington Post (Sept. 15, 2014, 6:01 AM), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/15/paycheck-fairness-act_n_5825644.html.

Christian Kohlsaat is a 2016 Staff Editor of the Race and Social Justice Law Review.

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